There have been recent reshuffles in the Union and State governments to provide portfolios to young party members. Earlier in May 2021, the Kerala government underwent a similar process of inducting young faces in the ministries and now the Union Cabinet Ministry has evidenced the induction of youth. A common phenomenon of the elder cadre being ‘more experienced’ and as a result ruling the younger, newer generations are not new and has been a trend all over the world.
In The Republic, Plato envisioned a state that was ruled by the elderly. This situation of being ruled by octogenarians and septuagenarians is termed gerontocracy, loosely translated to ‘ being ruled by elders’. In India, this phenomenon has been prevalent since Independence. In fact, since 1947, the average age of parliamentarians has risen from 46.5 to 58 years. Thus, this article will analyze the impacts of the age-wise demography of Indian politicians on the largest democracy in the world.
A WORLDLY PHENOMENON OF AGED POLITICIANS
After the General Elections of 2019, the average age of Rajya Sabha MPs is 62.96 years and of the 17th Lok Sabha was 58 years. This ageing phenomenon is not restricted to India but has been prevalent all across the globe with just a few exceptions. Former President of the U.S.A Ronald Regan, was 77 when he demitted the office leading to a joke that now the President would remember the names of all the officials. Donald Trump was 74 when he was running for re-election, even the incumbent president Joe Biden is 78. Deng Xiaoping was 78 when he led China in 1978 and continued till 1992.
A change can be evidenced in the age of politicians, from the 70s to the 50s. Barack Obama was 47 when he won his first presidential election. Successors of Xiaoping in China became younger and younger, Hu Jintao was 69 when the office was succeeded by Xi Jinping. In Britain, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is just 41 and Home Secretary Priti Patel is 49. This age factor brought fresh ideas, new execution policies which played an instrumental role in the development and these are much-required in the fast-changing world of the 21st century. However, such posts in India are still held by ministers who are in their fifties, sixties, or even seventies.
YOUNG POLITICIANS FOR YOUNG INDIA IN 2019: CABINET 2.0
– The new Council of Cabinet Ministers, recently changed in July 2021, is at least three years younger than the previous one. The average age went from 61 years (2020) to 58 years (2021). The youngest minister in the council changed from Smriti Irani (Minister of Women and Child Development, aged 43) to Nisith Pramanik (Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Minister of State, Ministry of Youth Affairs, aged 35).
Additionally, the number of ministers in their forties and fifties (which are considered as young in politics) have increased with the simultaneous promotion of few mid-aged politicians to ministerial posts, such as Anurag Thakur, Bharati Pawar, Jyotiraditya Scindia and 10 others. It has been widely observed that introducing younger people into the council was one of the aims for the reshuffle, primarily to bring out a positive impact on the states and the general elections and secondarily to bring in change and innovation.
India has one of the youngest populations in the world, thus has the potential to dominate the century. It has entered into a 37 year period of the demographic dividend, i.e. the working population will be more than the dependant population from the year 2018 to 2055. This can be considered a boom period for India because countries like Japan, China, South Korea have achieved a two-digit GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth rate due to similar changes in demographic structure. Nevertheless, a good demographic dividend does not necessarily imply GDP growth and has to be supplemented with good education, state of the art healthcare facilities and other socio-economic benefits.
YOUTH POLITICIANS, PERSPECTIVES & PROBLEMS
34.8% of the population in India is in the age group of 15-34 years according to Census 2011. At the same time, 28.8% of the population accounts for less than 14 years of age. As of 2021, India has the estimated youngest average population in the world.
But the point of discussion is how can aged leaders continue to rule India when almost two-thirds of the population is below 35? Isn’t it necessary to have leaders representing the wider age of the demographic? These questions narrow down our debate to ‘experience versus youth in politics’.
In an interview, Yogendra Yadav (an Indian activist, psephologist, politician and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi) provided an answer to the question of the ideal age of a politician taking into account his political experience. It was the age of 500! The reason being the inability of humans to attain the skills required for politics in their lifespan. Thus, he emphasises that experienced individuals are preferred over the young, a similar concept was given by Plato as discussed earlier. However, the issue is that old-aged or experienced politicians have the tendency to become rigid with their perspectives. They might not be as open and flexible to new ideas. Thus, there has been an increasing demand for youth in politics.
Yet, youthfulness cannot be equated with age, it is a state of mind. Some might consider Jyotiraditya Scindia, Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, and even Tejashwi Yadav young by age but not by their perspective. On the contrary, Kanhaiya Kumar is often seen as a youth leader with a fresh attitude, ideas and hope.
Another issue closely related to a gerontocracy is dynasty rule, especially significant in Indian politics. According to Yogendra Yadav - Tejashwi Yadav, Rahul Gandhi, and Sachin Pilot considered as young politicians had forefathers in politics too, due to which vote bank politics stop them from being young in the real sense. The induction of youth and its policy in politics has been pressed by the present ruling party i.e. BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). The party has not provided politicians above the age of 75 a role in Central or State governments. Due to this, the 17th Lok Sabha’s 12% of MPs are below 40.
A study conducted by UN IANYD (United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development) in August 2012 provided that young men and women feel excluded from active participation in policymaking. The tasks are majorly centralized and single-handedly performed by senior leaders. One of the major reasons is the age bar to participate in politics, (average age of 25 years to contest elections) and adding onto that is nepotism. This leads to a grim situation for young women and men due to a lack of representation and participation in the legislative process.
It is true that only young men and women cannot rule the country as politics itself requires unending skills. However, a blend of young and experienced individuals to create a win-win situation can be emphasised upon. Youth are adept at new technologies and instrumental in peace-building, whereas senior leaders have wisdom and skills gained from experience.
There is an urgent need for structural changes such as reserving seats for youth from the non-political background and inclusive decision-making process, either by offering internships at parliament or investing in public policy education. This will increase the participation of youth and enable the political structure to be more flexible and open to new ideas, thus letting go of the negative effects of a gerontocracy.
Shreya Maloo is a law student pursuing a BA.LLB, at the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala, Punjab